Freitag 29.07.2022 18:30 — 20:00
Max-Planck-Institut für empirische Ästhetik

Performing Social Justice: Why, and Then How?

Allen Otte

Allen Otte

Artistic work involves a multitude of decisions of a conscious and unconscious nature, judgments about success and failure, reflection on one's own actions. The series "How Did You Do That? Lecture Recitals on Contemporary Artistic Processes, Decisions, and Judgements" invites well-known artists from various disciplines to reflect on these processes: What criteria play a role? On what background are aesthetic decisions made? What kind of references are involved? When is a work/performance successful?

The evening events of the series each consist of a performance (concert, reading, performance) and an accompanying discussion with audience participation. The series is curated by Christian Grüny and Melanie Wald-Fuhrmann.

Friday, July 29, 6:30 p.m. (CET) l Lecture Recital 02:

Performing Social Justice: Why, and Then How?

Lecture and performance by Allen Otte, founding member of the Percussion Group Cincinnati and former Black Earth Percussion Group. Discussion with Lauren K. Fink, postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics.



Our ‘post-truth, alternative-fact, fake-news’ era confronts us as something we all fear is going to be difficult to fix. The power in musical art and performance is that even when it is about something other than itself, it is situated well beyond the didactic and merely factual – it is an experience, an experience related to the depths and beauties of its history as well as that of its current subject matter. Thus, engaging with matters of social justice does not in any way imply having to give up highly refined skills, years of training and experience with our beloved instruments and the history of the art connected to them. What composers and performers working with such concepts are offering is our having made something which intends to actively participate in an ever-changing process of cultural discourse. However, the assignment is doubly great: one has not only a responsibility to the chosen issue, but also a responsibility to the quality of the art. Working in this realm one chooses to believe that art, art as advocacy, can and does make a difference; that it does light a path in the time and place where it is made; that it leaves a path for those who come behind.  

How to do this?

This lecture recital includes excerpts from three different examples:

(1) Video documentation from, and discussion of, The Innocents – a one-hour performance-art music-theater piece for percussion, text, and soundscapes on the subject of the United States criminal justice system, wrongful conviction, and exoneration; (2) performed excerpts from Frederic Rzewski’s The Fall of the Empire; and (3) the performance of a new work on the subject of gun violence in the United States.


The Innocents (2006/rev. 2018)                                   Allen Otte (1950- ) & John Lane (1981- )

  • Video excerpts
  • Time and Truth


The Fall of the Empire (2007)                                      Frederic Rzewski (1938-2021)

  • Prolog (Thomas Jefferson)
  • Act IV, scene 1: The Ground (FR)
  • Act V, scene 2: Sabbath (Mark Twain)
  • Epilogue: The Flood (Zohar)


A Gun Is Not A Drum (2022)                                         Allen Otte


This Lecture Recital will take place in our ArtLab. To register for the event, please write to us at

About the Lecture Recitals

In the empirical study of aesthetic phenomena, the question of the process of the creation of artistic works often receives less attention. The series aims to systematically investigate these processes by combining a presentation of artistic works with a discursive reflection on their process of creation and the decisions and judgments associated with it. The series is aimed both at the interested public, to whom an important part of the Institute's work can thus be brought closer, and at a specialist audience, where it can stimulate further research.


Allen Otte was, in 1972, a founding member of the Blackearth Percussion Group whose premise was that percussionists should be able to behave in our time just as string quartets had done since the time of Beethoven. He came to the University of Cincinnati in 1977 and in 1979 founded the world-renowned ensemble, Percussion Group Cincinnati.

Professor Otte taught classical and contemporary percussion, eurhythmics, various literature seminars, and coached and conducted traditional and contemporary chamber music. In addition to his now Emeritus position at the University of Cincinnati, he has also been adjunct professor of eurhythmics at the Oberlin Conservatory. His students are members of major symphony orchestras and service bands, contemporary ensembles, and hold positions at universities throughout the country. ###

Otte has regularly taught, given master classes, and presented his own creative work—solo and collaborative—throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia. With John Lane he performs their music theater creation on wrongful imprisonment, The Innocents, throughout the United States, including at The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta and at the Innocents Network National Conference. His work in this area has led to other invitations including a residency in Roosevelt University’s Performing Social Justice Program.

Recent guest faculty engagements have included the Banff Center for the Arts, the Amsterdam Conservatory, and a creative development residency with the Indianapolis Symphony as instructor in eurhythmics. For ten years he was a coach in the Grandin Festival for Vocal Chamber Music, and for several summers, the Opera Theater of Lucca, Italy.

His broad percussion expertise is reflected in frequent guest artist appearances such as the 2012 Carnegie Hall Tour of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and many regular invitations as both soloist and ensemble member to the Percussive Arts Society’s International Convention. With the improvisation trio Vaster Than Empires (sound sculpture, e-violin, electronics) he has appeared at university venues, but also in clubs and various alternative spaces; since 2018 he has performed as a member of the medieval music quartet Trobar.

In addition to the recorded work of Percussion Group Cincinnati, a CD of collaborative works of Otte and computer music composer Mara Helmuth is available on EMS; Vaster Than Empire’s first release is on the Chicago label Parlour Tapes, and his contributions to TRIGGER: Artists Respond to Gun Violence will be released by Albany in 2022.

Allen Otte and his colleagues in Percussion Group Cincinnati were inducted into the International Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 2017.